Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Whine, women and 223 words

The Female of the Species

Highbury Little Theatre, Sutton Coldfield


THIS is feminism taking itself too seriously – in the artistic cause, fashioned by playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, of being laughed at.  

The laughs come mainly in the second half of Liz Parry's lively studio production, well after it has justified the programme's cautionary note about adult language – which it achieves in fact in the first few seconds, when the central character bursts onto the empty stage with a single-syllable word and lots of noise. 

She proclaims two F-words and one blasphemy before you have time to sort the most comfortable spot on your unyielding studio seat. 

This is our first look at Margot Mason, self-centred feminist writer who is being hounded by her publisher and has so far written just 223 words of her next book. Any hope she has of appeasing him is soon lessened by the fact that she is on the wrong end of a revolver that is in the hands of a woman whose life has been put into turmoil by Mason's previous books and who thinks it's time to give rein to the grudge that she holds against her.  

But Margot Mason has upset a host of people with her previous literary outpourings. It's surprising that they are not forming an orderly queue on the front door step. Perhaps they would be, if the unseen mooing cow that has got there before them had not been in the way. 

Liz Hale plays the writer with a whine and an affronted sense of being the victim of the world at large. She's prone to writing books with vagina in the title, and right now she hasn't a hope of meeting any deadline, because – even discounting the interesting intruder with the gun – her house is full of visitors.


By the time the fun has run its course, there are five of them – her daughter, her son-in-law, her publisher, a man who has played a significant role in her past and the gun-toting girl with the grudge, who at least keeps coming up with phrases that the writer feels are worth jotting down for future use. 

Not that Daisy Hale – real-life daughter of Liz – sets out to scare the pants off anybody. Her Molly Rivers is distinctly self-effacing. She wears a puzzled expression like a favourite dress, seemingly reluctant to change it – and not to be decried on that account, because it suits the unassuming Molly quite splendidly.  

How unassuming is she? Well, at one point she feels she has to remind the assembled company that this is her hostage situation. This is a gun girl who turns out to be the most likable character of them all – indeed, somebody says that for a homicidal maniac she is awfully sweet – but she clearly can on no account allow her big moment to be hijacked. 

Then there's Tess. She is Margot's daughter – hard-pressed mother of three, at war with the world and required tomorrow to make a cinema, out of balsa wood. This is a lively, fiery performance by Heather Johnson; an ear-catching account of an “exhausted, miserable and empty woman” who is going to fight her corner as long as she has breath. 

Dan Payne is her husband, Bryan – amiable, stocky and charged late on with the task of recapping the story thus far, which he does with admirable fluency. And there's Frank (Dave Douglas), who makes no bones about putting the regrettable Margot in her place and who maintains the confident word flow that is the strength of the production; and Neil Weedon, the publisher who arrives late-on and turns out to be another likable citizen. 

There were a small number of intermittent mishaps with the script – which was a surprise, as I did not manage to get there until the fourth night – but in general there was a well-maintained pace. Ironically, this merely indicated how nearly the performance could have come to perfection if the gremlins had not insisted on being involved. To 09-04-11.

John Slim 

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